Visioning Workshops

The first 53rd Street Visioning Workshop was held on Saturday, December 8, 2007. It was clear to many of us in attendance that the University had an agenda to get the community to agree to an out-of-scale building at the McMobil site. Although the December 12 Herald did not have a news article covering the workshop, there were a number of letters on the workshop. These may all be accessed through the Herald Archives.

Here is an excerpt from one letter: “The second, and much more serious concern, is the request at the end of the meeting that we vote on whether we would accept a mid-rise development of eight to 10 stories in the 53rd Street TIF district. Several of us tried to make the case that we would be open to an eight to 10-story development in some sections of the district, but not all. A request to modify the question was rejected.”

The workshop organizers (working for the University) then prepared a draft report on the results of the workshop. The portion of that report relevant to the discussions about building height at the McMobil site can be found here and is particularly instructive. The final versions of the reports from all the visioning workshops are available from the SECC 53rd Street website.

The third page of the excerpt (page number 8 of the report) asks “What should the buildings look like?” and then proceeds:

Draft Report: People stressed that buildings should be of good quality, design and well maintained, and had a strong desire for all buildings to be compatible with the neighborhood character and scale. In this context people specifically mentioned the use of brick and limestone, and a mix of styles, both old and new, was important.

Our comment: Yes, we did and still do have a strong desire for buildings to be compatible with neighborhood character and scale. That’s why we support the lawsuit.

Draft Report: Building heights – The comments on this topic indicated that participants were split, with about half preferring buildings under five stories and the other half preferring buildings over five stories. Some qualified their remarks by suggesting locating taller buildings closer to Lake Park Avenue and transit.

Our comment: This is disingenuous. It was NOT the case that half of the participants “preferred” taller buildings while half preferred shorter ones. Rather, the discussion was about uses of different parts of the TIF district. The correct conclusion is the final line: taller buildings were considered appropriate right next to the train tracks. Note: The final version removes any reference to the comments that taller buildings should be located closer to Lake Park.

Draft Report: When given an option to rank responses to the question about the building’s appearance, only 6% indicated that buildings should be three to four stories and only 8% voted in support of height limitations.

Our comment: This is patent nonsense. There was never a vote asking whether we wanted three to four story buildings, nor was there a vote asking whether we wanted height limitations (isn’t that what we call “zoning”, anyway?). Rather, a a number of options had been generated in the workgroups, and each person voted for their top choice.

The report has a pie chart of the votes for the most important characteristics of the appearance of buildings. These are the results in list form:

  • 44%: Mixture of historical and well designed modern buildings
  • 17%: Mixed use
  • 8%: Height limitations
  • 7%: Continued use of traditional buildings
  • 7%: Underground and off-street parking
  • 6%: 3-4 story tall buildings
  • 4%: Patios, atriums, and balconies
  • 3%: Roof top gardens
  • 2%: No visible security gates or shutters
  • 1%: Retail

The draft report’s spin that “only” 14% wanted some sort of height limitation goes beyond disingenuous, it is cynical and wrong. When given only one vote, 14% chose to use that vote on height limitations, while 0% “voted” in favor of tall buildings. That’s 14-0 in favor of smaller buildings, not 86-14 against.
We note as well that only 1% “voted” in favor of retail, and find it interesting that the draft report does not highlight this as well.

Note: The final report text removes any reference to the two items concerning building height, though they remain of course in the pie chart.

Draft Report: Meeting facilitators provided definitions for low-rise and mid-rise and then asked participants to indicate whether they would accept a mid-rise building somewhere in the 53rd St. TIF district. Approximately 63% said yes, 26% said no and 11% said unsure.

Our comment: The writer of the letter to the Herald has already summed this up. The organizers refused, even when pushed, to hold separate votes on height near the Metra tracks and height at the McMobil site. Note: The final report also clarifies that “mid-rise” means 3-12 stories. Thus the 63% who would accept a mid-rise building somewhere in the TIF district may have been thinking of 4-story or 5-story buildings. And by the definitions given at the workshop Vue53 at 13 stories is not mid-rise, it is high-rise.

The conclusion is inescapable. Since 2007 the University has tried different ways to get the community to say it supports a tall building at McMobil. It failed in 2007, and it has failed every time since. As in the 2007 workshop, they have never asked directly about the McMobil site, but have instead always tried to frame the question in a roundabout way; still, they have yet to get the answer they want. In the end, they have decided simply to proceed without the community’s agreement. That’s why we have the current proposal for THIRTEEN stories at McMobil. And that’s why we need the lawsuit.